When four Texas counties signed on to Family Connects International in September, they became the latest locations of a growing Sanford-based program that offers a fresh approach to newborn health. The program, which provides free nurse home visits to newborns and their parents, was profiled Jan. 2 on CBS This Morning.
Family Connects, a program of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, is the brainchild of Duke’s Kenneth Dodge. The program now operates in 16 locations and is in planning stages at 14 more sites, and builds on the model established by Durham Connects.
Dodge, a psychologist, has spent his career studying how to improve children’s lives, including violence prevention. Seventeen years ago, The Duke Endowment challenged Dodge to improve child outcomes in Durham — in a way that could be supported by rigorous research and evidence. Dodge joined forces with the Center for Child & Family Health and Durham County government agencies. After some trial efforts, Durham Connects launched in 2008, offering nurse home visits to every newborn in Durham County at no charge.
Family Connects builds on the community-wide approach pioneered by Durham Connects. Nurses visit newborns at around three weeks of age, and follow up with additional visits if needed. They conduct postpartum health checks on infants and birth mothers; offer guidance and support for lactation, positive parenting, safe sleeping and other issues; and screen for substance abuse, postpartum depression and home safety.
Nurses also inform families about community resources, connecting families to the specific services they need.
“Nurses are able to see how the mom is interacting with her baby and not only offer support and guidance but also answer her questions, which provides immediate, real-time postpartum support,” said research scientist Ben Goodman.
Research shows the model improves child and family health across the community. Infants that participate in the program have 50 percent fewer emergency room and overnight hospital stays, which brings down healthcare costs. Program participants also have safer home environments, less postpartum anxiety and depression and show more positive parenting behaviors.
“Every family who brings home a newborn has needs,” says Executive Director Scott Hippert. “Family Connects makes sure they are connected to supports that meet their unique needs.”